Overcoming Cultural Pressures in University: A Personal Journey

Overcoming Cultural Pressures in University: A Personal Journey

By: Henna Pahal
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As struggling students, we face many hurdles throughout our university careers. From achieving high grades, to searching for jobs in competitive job markets, to maintaining our mental health in the face of school stress, the challenges seem never-ending. These things can become even more challenging when we factor in the pressures placed on us by our families and cultures to make certain choices regarding what we decide to pursue in our studies and careers. In particular, students with immigrant families or international students may tend to feel this pressure more than others.

Growing up in a Punjabi family, it was expected that I would take a very traditional approach to finding a career: go to school and get a secure job that pays more than enough to live comfortably. I can’t blame my parents for instilling this in me, since they struggled immensely as immigrants and only wanted the best for me. However, they could only advise me based on their personal experiences and what the cultural norm had become. There is so much more to finding a career than they know, and it is changing more and more with time.

Taking their advice, I left high school with the notion that I wanted to be an accountant. I decided that I was going to earn my business degree and then pursue the Chartered Professional Accountant designation. It seemed like the perfect path to success, but I had no idea that I would come to realize how unhappy this pursuit made me and how completely wrong it was for me.

After completing my first accounting class, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to pursue, but I felt the pressure to continue on. I felt optimistic during the first few classes, but as time went on I lost more and more interest in the topics that were covered and I struggled with studying because I just had no interest in what I was learning. I had re-do the course and struggled through the following accounting courses until the end of my third year when I could not go through with it anymore. Even after struggling so much, I could not bear to tell my family about it. I had told everyone I was going to be an accountant and I did not want to cause any stress or disappointment.

After three years of continuous disinterest in countless electives, I finally found something I loved. During my second semester of my third year, I was browsing through electives when I stumbled across the subject of publishing. At the time, I had no idea SFU had even offered undergraduate publishing courses, but something sparked an interest and so I signed myself up. I took Publishing 101 and fell in love with the subject. From this, I not only decided to pursue a minor in publishing, but I also learned a great deal more about marketing in the publishing industry. A concentration in marketing kind of just fell into my lap. To some, the timing may seem late, but I was finally ready to pursue a concentration. I was excited about something after so many years of anxiety and uncertainty.

My parents were a lot more understanding than I thought they would be once I carefully explained everything to them. They weren’t too pleased, but they accepted it. At the end of the day, they were only concerned about my wellbeing and they just wanted me to be financially secure for the rest of my life. I realize my career could go in many directions after I finish my degree, but the point is that I found something I like and feel like I could find myself pursuing at some level after I graduate.

From this whole experience, I learned that it is okay to explore your options and find something you’re interested in. What I know now is that you are the only person who is going to have to live with your career for the rest of your life, and nobody else. Take chances, get involved with school, and explore your interests because you never know when something will fall into place for you. Once you discover your interests and some of the possible directions those interests can take you in, you’ll gain a better sense of what you want do with your life. 


Lead image courtesy of Pexels.

Beyond the Article 

  • Still feeling career-related pressures? Totally okay! Check out this Psychology Today article by Brad Waters.
  • Feeling overwhelmed? Take the Wellness Quiz to see how you can better balance your life and allocate your time.
  • Check out SFU's list of clubs to see what might interest you. 
Posted on February 10, 2017